I wasn’t sure that I was going to have anything new on this list, but let’s be fair, I don’t remember last years list, so there most likely will be something new, and then I realize that there is definitely one new one. 1 Kiss […]
Tag: Cabin in the Woods
I’ve been writing a lot about horror or things that work well for Halloween, so now that it’s the actual date, what makes good horror?
Now, this is obviously going to be somewhat subjective because it’s my thoughts on horror, and your thoughts on what you prefer might vary greatly, but I think that there’s going to be a number of takeaways that most people will probably agree with.
Let’s start by thinking about why people read or watch horror. There are probably several reasons for it, but the biggest one that I know of is that energy that you get from feeling scared. It triggers some of the fight or flight adrenaline in people who love horror. There’s a sense of high emotion that you’re getting even though you’re feeling scared. It’s an energy that is going to stick with you for a while, even if it does haunt your dreams later.
With that in mind, how do you best go about creating those feelings and moments?
There are a number of things, but one of the biggest is also basic for any sort of story generation. Keep your characters interesting and sympathetic. You want your readers or watchers to be able to relate to the main characters, because then they are going to feel more when those characters are scared. It’s really being able to insert yourself into the shoes of the character so that you can imagine it happening to you. The more you can do this, the more of a true reaction you’re going to get out of people.
Now, that isn’t for every horror movie, in movies like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, or Cabin in the Woods, I doubt we feel like we’re any of those characters. In those cases you’re playing off of the expectations of people as to what is going to happen in a story. They will be looking for the jump scares to happen to those characters, but if the jump scare is done well enough, the people taking in your story are still going to jump as well. The stories that use this methodology aren’t going to stick around as long with people because you already have some idea as to what is going to happen.
Then how do you continue to build from there?
I’m going to break this part into two different sections, the more realistic first than the more trope driven methods of horror.
In a more realistic approach you’re trying hard to keep everything based somewhat in reality. A movie that I haven’t seen yet, but that has some reasonable feel to it while being completely out there is A Quiet Place. Being quiet so that no one knows where you are, that seems very reasonable to the human brain, which makes that movie scary. You’re going to feel for the people every time they make a noise because you can imagine it happening to yourself and how scared you would be when you hear a noise. Cloverfield is another example that seems a bit odd, because there’s a giant monster attacking New York City, how realistic is that? But with the handheld camera and found footage feel they are going for it feels more realistic and more relatable. Now, it’s less effective than some because it is a monster, but another thing that Cloverfield does well is the not knowing all the information about what is going on. This is also shown in 10 Cloverfield Lane. The main characters do not have all the information and because we’re basically just seeing it from their perspective, we’re also lacking in information which makes it more tense.
The danger to the characters also matters a lot, you don’t want it to feel like any characters are particularly safe. Cloverfield does this by having a character you met very early on who seemed fairly likely to survive dying in the monster attack, then another character dying from a monster attack part way through the movie. In fact, in that movie no one is safe. If you’re worried that the character you might light will die, that adds more to the stress and fear that you’re going for in this sort of horror.
Also, keep away from the buckets of blood. A grisly death can be effective in this sort of horror, but it isn’t needed by any stretch of the imagination, and really in any horror, the over the top plethora of violence doesn’t really make it scarier. A lot of gore isn’t generally scary, it tends to be gross. You’re going to get a reaction of revulsion versus being scared and that’s going really horror. It might be horrifying and traumatizing, but if we go back to what my original definition for good horror was, it’s not going to kick up the fight or flight adrenaline. Especially in something that you’re targeting to be more realistic, it only works if you are doing something disturbing to a character that you care about, and something makes sense within the story. 10 Cloverfield Lane does this with the character being killed in a vat of acid, and even with that, they don’t focus in on the gore of it, it’s just something horrifying that happens primarily off screen. The concept of what is happening is where the horror comes from, not actually seeing the event, and how far the character is going to go is scarier than the actual event.
So what about the trope filled horror, how do you make that scary?
You still do want to feel for the characters some. So try and keep them somewhat sympathetic. They just aren’t going to be as realistic as the other type of horror. You’re going to have them fit into the various tropes as to what sort of characters are in a horror film. If you want to see a good way that the different tropes of characters are used in a horror film, Cabin in the Woods does it nicely with the characters starting out one way, and because it’s a horror film being shaped into a certain expected horror film trope.
Next you are going to rely on a lot on jump scares. It’s less about the psychological because you probably have a killer or horror instigator like Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger. They are not highly realistic, though they can do interesting things, like Krueger attacking through dreams, but even in that case, it’s more about how and when they pop up. I would say with a good jump scare it’s about misdirection. A viewer or reader versed in horror is going to know when to expect it to happen, but you want them looking for it in a certain spot and have it come in from a different direction.
You’re also trying to subvert expectations once in a while. The heavier trope focused horror should generally follow the expected story progression. You want it to feel familiar because people will start to get into the story and what is happening and start looking for things, and while jumps should fairly often come from a misdirection of where they are coming from, not so much when, you should try and have some sort of twist in the main plot that is at least a little surprising. It’s mainly done through the backstory of the villain in movies like Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street, but you could hit other areas as well, such as having a character turn on the rest of the characters at an time they don’t suspect.
And how do you deal with gore in this sort of film? I still don’t think you need to lean heavily into disgusting violence. But this is the spot that you can use a bucket of blood. Black Sheep, a movie about zombie sheep in New Zealand, has a ton of gore to it with buckets of blood and people getting torn apart, but it isn’t done in a twisted sort of way, it’s just straight forward over the top gore. It doesn’t add much to the scariness of the movie, but as compared to some movies, it also doesn’t detract from the movie.
I think either of these methods creates an interesting horror story. It really depends on the person which one they prefer or if they prefer either of them. Which type of horror do you prefer and what are some of your favorite books, shows, or movies in the genre?
Share questions, ideas for articles, or comments with us!
So wasn’t originally going to be part of the “This is Halloween” series, but felt like it fit in still. I’ve been giving advice on shows, movies, games, etc. and this advice is just a little bit different, but it’s still going to be suggestions […]
So we’ve kind of done this before with Table Top Picks, our top 7 board games, but since then, I’ve certainly played more games, so my list might have changed. I also tried to avoid looking back at my list so I wasn’t basing it off of what I had previously done. So without further ado, here are my top 5 board games.
5. Dead of Winter
This game isn’t without flaws/weird bits to it; the traitor, if there is one, generally can always tank the game during the last round if they don’t think they are going to win, in order to prevent everyone else from winning. And then everyone has secret objectives, so it kind of makes everyone look a bit like a traitor. I once wrote about how I’d like this to be turned into a legacy game, and I still think this would be one way to improve it. I think another way would be to rework it so that someone who completes their secret objective is the super-winner, even if the group wins the overall game; otherwise, as a non-traitor player in that last round, you might as well try to tank the game, or you’ll look 100% like the traitor.
That said, there are a ton of things I love about this game. The first being the crossroad system — on your turn, another player draws a crossroad card and reads it, and if you do a certain action or move someone to a certain spot that’s specified on the card, this acts as a sort of trigger. The other player then reads out a bit of a story, and you have to make a choice between two options the card gives you (at least most of the time; sometimes there is only one option). In the rules, it says to draw a card per each player’s turn; we draw two, and then if one of them is triggered by a player’s action, that is the one that the player has to deal with. This means that you get these cool story interjection moments. I also really like how gritty this game feels. Yes, it’s about surviving against a horde of zombies, but it’s in many ways more about the survivors themselves, like in The Walking Dead. That puts a different level of stress on you as a player, because you aren’t just worried about mowing down zombies all the time — there’s all kinds of other stuff to worry about. For example, can you feed your people? What do you do if you find more survivors? Is the base getting too messy? Dead of Winter is a fun game and a challenging one, and if you don’t like the hidden traitor aspect, you can certainly play it as a solely cooperative game.
Smallworld is a fun take on the area control concept — in this game, you have a fantasy race and trait that are randomly combined, and you control an army of soldiers bearing that race and trait to take over areas on a board. But whatever number of players you play with, the board is small enough that you’re going to have to take over other players’ areas. This game is meant for that, though, and it’s really hard to have hurt feelings over it (unlike with other area control games), because when you don’t have enough of your current race, you can put them into decline and get a new one and exact your revenge during the next turn. It’s also a ton of fun because you never know what sort of combinations you’re going to get. Maybe you have flying giants or underworld sorcerers or commando pixies. These combinations change every game, too, so it feels different every time you play it (and they have awesome expansions for even more variability). Players’ turns go quickly, and the game has a round limit on it, so it never takes that long to play. The rules are simple, and the fantasy is fun and crazy. This is an area control game that I would pull out to the table anytime, and even people who hate Risk will probably like to play this game.
3. Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game
My first pure cooperative game on the list, Dresden Files is a fun game that is very hard at times. You play through the different books of the Dresden Files series in game form. It is an interesting game mechanically, in that you have action points that you need to use and you have a hand of cards that all cost action points. You have to balance playing cards and discarding cards to get more action points, but sometimes you have to discard a really good card.
This game, while being cooperative, does have some hidden information between players; in most cooperative games, you share openly what information you have on your cards, and often, your hand of cards is right in front of you, but not so in Dresden. You can give general descriptions of your cards, but the details can’t be said. Now, you do develop a sort of a shorthand for that as time goes on, but you never know for sure what other players have. Finally, this game really does feel a lot like playing through the books, which some other games based on books or movies don’t do quite as well. In the books, Harry is always almost losing or getting beat up, and in this game, you feel like that; it basically always comes down to the last little bit and the luck of a die roll to determine if you win or not.
2. Betrayal at House on the Hill
I love love love this game. It has that campy style of a haunted house or a horror movie where you know someone is going to accidentally piss off the zombie rednecks or turn into a ghost or call death to your location, and you’re going to have to deal with it. This is a surprise traitor game where you start out exploring this old haunted house and encountering weird things and finding omens. It’s a bit like Cabin in the Woods, in which the characters are stuck in a horror movie and somehow something horrible is going to happen to them. Depending on what they mess around with, though, they may trigger the omen that sets events in motion.
That is 100% what happens in this game, except one person is the traitor. This game does have one glaring flaw that becomes less of one the more you play the game — when you get to the haunt, the stage during which the traitor is revealed, sometimes the traitor rules or the survivor rules don’t make a ton of sense. The more you play, the more sense they make, but some of them are just weird and take a while to figure out. Like I said, this has the classic horror feel to it, and I love it; I’ll play it every chance I get, and I’m excited for Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, the D&D version of Betrayal at House on the Hill.
1. Pandemic/Pandemic Legacy
If you follow us on Facebook, you’d probably guess that this was going to be my number one. I am super jazzed for season 2 of Pandemic Legacy. Pandemic is a game where you work together to find cures for diseases while they are spreading all the time; it’s just a blast. It’s a fairly tough cooperative game that the legacy version then turns on its head and makes into something amazing. In that version, there are story elements that come up each “month” you play; you also find out new things as you go, and the rules change slightly as the game progresses. This game is a ton of fun, and I love bringing it to the table. It’s also an accessible cooperative game in that, although there is a fair amount of strategy, it’s easy enough to learn the base game. If you haven’t tried playing this game, definitely give it a whirl, and if it’s too easy, there are things that you can do to make it harder. And if you are looking for a way to change up your basic Pandemic gaming experience, the legacy version of the game is an awesome way to do that. There are a bunch of great expansions for the game as well, but I haven’t played all of those, so I can’t speak to them.
I always have to do some honorable mentions as well, since there are so many games that I’ve played and love, but can’t put on the list. Plus, it’s rare for me to run into a board game that I don’t like. First on my honorable mention list is Star Wars Rebellion; this game feels like the epic space opera that Star Wars is, in a box. I’ve played it a single time, and I want to play it again. Sushi Go! Party is a game that I can play over and over again, and it’s simple, fast, and has fun strategy to it. Arkham Horror/Elder Signs are how I like to get my HP Lovecraft fix, though Mansions of Madness is a game that I want to play even more and which might pass the other two up. Cosmic Encounters is a fun space game that plays pretty quickly and has fun alien race powers. Finally, Hogwarts Battle is a game that I just got to the table a second time last night, and it was a blast; you get to play as the main characters of Harry Potter and defeat villains as you play through the plot of the books.
What are some board games that you like to get to the table?
Share questions, ideas for articles, or comments with us!